Tuesday, January 31, 2012

For Rent Richmond Avenue

Photo by ChristineMM Richmond Avenue Houston Texas with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Study: This Generation Not Likely to Study Science or Engineering

Well this is sad but I'm not surprised.

Article: Youth Unlikely To Pursue Science, Technology, Engineering Jobs, Survey Finds

By: Joy Resmovits

In: Huffington Post

On: 1/25/12

Thirty-four percent said they "don't know much about these fields," while a third said "these fields are too challenging." Twenty-eight percent said they weren't "well-prepared in school to seek out a career or further ... [their] education in these fields."

Meanwhile, 47 percent of respondents noted that a lack of innovation "would hurt the U.S. economy" and 80 percent said they'd be interested in courses that would help them "become more inventive and creative."

Joshua Schuler:
"...we found there's a real lack of knowledge in STEM education and the things that motivate young people to go into."

Last week, the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness advocated a focus on STEM fields in schools. The paper stressed the need to "start by transforming our education system from preschool through K-12."

Regarding the current federal STEM initiative:

"The GAO report is already being used as partisan ammunition by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, who commissioned the report. "Taxpayers have seen little evidence that these programs are actually working," Kline said in a statement. “Investing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is a worthwhile endeavor -- but pumping billions of dollars into programs that may be duplicative or unproductive is just plain foolish."

Now you see why I think science magnet schools are a good thing. They are allowed to do science differently than regular public schools. It's just too bad there are not more science magnet schools available.

Homeschoolers have flexibility to study subjects more in depth or in different ways such as using a more inquiry based creative thinking using scientific thinking skills way rather than just doing drill and kill memorization of terms for science. Homeschoolers can pick curriculum and books that are interesting and work well with their individual children. Homeschoolers have time to do science competitions and hands on activities, if they can access such opportunities.

Hat Tip: https://twitter.com/#!/gravitaspub">Rebecca Keller of Gravitas Publishing

Why We Have Day and Night Picture Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Why We Have Day and Night

Author: Peter F. Neumeyer

Illustrator: Edward Gorey

Publication: Pomegranate, 2011 (previously published in 1970)

Genre: Children’s Picture Book ages 4-8

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

My Summary Statement: A Peek Inside the Mind of a Child; Whimsical and Nonsense Story, Funny

The lights suddenly go out, and three children who were busy playing begin to speculate why, giving nonsensical ideas so common to the way young kid’s minds work. The fourth and oldest child chimes in and tries to explain about the Earth’s rotation and the sun and why it gets dark at night. Then they reject the notion and share another nonsense idea that they think happened.

Being a blend of real science explained in a way that kids can understand and mostly nonsense this will appeal to children and adults who have a sense of humor. Anyone wanting pure nonfiction science picture books and to only discuss things in factual serious ways will not like this book.

Perhaps some would say this book is weird, when really it’s just funny and telling realistic ways that children’s minds work. I appreciate the silliness as it’s a reminder of the fresh, uninhibited way that the minds of curious children work. Children outgrow that way of thinking and talking when they get older and begin to fear criticism or ridicule by others from what they say, so enjoy that phase while your children are in it.

As an adult, I'm thinking about this book a bit deeper. I find it funny that adults also sometimes fall prey to this line of thinking. They don't know something, they ponder on how and why it is and come up with false notions and crazy ideas sometimes a worst case scenario. When facts are shared to explain it, they sometimes don't want to believe them and go back to believing the nonsense. They hold onto their original ideas or go looking for even more explanations which are disconnected from the true facts.

Edward Gorey illustrated this children’s picture book and his style and illustrations makes the book fun. Fans of the artwork of Gorey will especially enjoy this book. Originally published in 1970, this book was reprinted in 2011.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from LibraryThing.com to publish a review on that site but was under no obligation to give it a favorable review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Road Sign

Photo by ChristineMM in Texas somewhere on the way between Houston and Oklahoma City, October 2011 with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Older Son's Latest Accomplishment

Here's an announcement I didn't think I may never possibly make let alone be announcing it right now.

My older son age 14, a Life Scout, has been elected to be Senior Patrol Leader of the Boy Scout Troop. He must have made a good impression on the boys since he has only been in the Troop for 3.5 months and there are over 100 Scouts -- at times it seems my kids are lost in a sea of bodies.

Truthfully, I didn't even know how many of them even knew who my son was. By attending Troop meetings and campouts and the week-long sleepover "winter camp", he must have made his presence known, just by being his genuine self.


A main goal of Scouting, in my opinion, is the development of leadership skills and character traits. By participating in a boy-led Troop, the boys can learn some important leadership skills especially by being elected to certain leadership roles. (Some Troops are not boy-led and my husband and I are against that method so we have not allowed our sons to join adult-led Troops.)

I was in no rush for my son to be SPL as to be blunt, it's a thankless job that takes many hours and can be a lot of aggravation for a teen to handle. Not only is an SPL trying to run the Troop and keep the Scouts happy he has to contend with adult leadership and the other Scout's parent's desires and agendas and complaints and everything that goes on when one is a leader. An SPL's job usually entails "office politics" and some drama.

The SPL plans the Troop meetings and camping trips and runs the Troop meetings. The SPL has to deal with Troop leadership adults and works with the other Scout boys (some are only 10 or 11 years old) trying to help deliver a quality program. Sometimes leading so many young boys can feel like herding cats, they're not always the easiest to lead.

In our former Troop, I have seen good-hearted kids struggle with issues and feel conflicted while they tried hard to be a good SPL. One Scout, in his first month of holding the position, was faced with a serious safety violation situation, a huge liability issue. It dawned on him that it was hard to be a boy's friend and be liked by everyone when he had to deal with problems with the boys to be their boss. When he spoke to me about his struggle I told him that a good leader has a responsibility to lead and do the right thing, they do not do what is easiest or may make the most people happy. There were clear negative risks if the right thing was not done; there really was no choice but to do the right thing. That that made some Scouts angry for a while and he was "on the outs". Being a leader is not all fun and games.

Anyhow, in December, my son said he wanted to run for SPL. Then we were told that "the most popular kid in the Troop who everyone has known for years" stepped up to run for SPL too. My son was told by leadership to not be surprised if he lost because of the other boy's popularity, even though technically Scouts are not supposed to treat elections like popularity contests, they're supposed to vote for who they think will do the job best. I hated the idea of my son running and losing.

There was short notice between his late decision and the election, and he was busy, so my son didn't even write a speech, even though he knew he'd have to make one that night. He stood up in front of everyone, and off the top of his head, in a sincere yet casual manner, gave what I'd call a fair to middling statement that was not as persuasive as I would have liked to have seen. His opponent was well spoken and seemed to have practiced, and read his speech off of an electronic device. I was impressed by that speech and again was groaning inside thinking my son was doomed to lose.

Well, by a handful of votes my son won. He was surprised and happy.

I, on the other hand, was shocked and instantly became worried. (Although I did enjoy seeing my son's glowing face.) My son is working at partial capacity due to the three times a week neurofeedback therapy for the Lyme Disease neurological issues. The Scoutmaster doesn't even know anything about that, no one in the Troop does. We've never had a reason to discuss it.

My son is in a three season sport whose practice overlaps with the Scout meeting. Now he has to leave practice early and get changed and composed and be ready at the meeting time early in order to lead the Scout meeting.

This new role means he will have to attend 99% or more meetings and all the camping trips. He had great attendance before but now it's a must not just a "should" or "good to do" thing, now it's a "must do".

Also, he had just joined the Robotics Team which meets five times a week for about 20 hours, and although they don't expect everyone to be there all the time, it's one more thing for him to juggle right now. This is crunch time; the busy season of robotics is right now, right when he will go through the worst learning curve for the SPL job!

Meanwhile, we are still dealing with homeschooling amidst these challenges in between the medical appointments and his extra-curricular activities. We all feel like we're never doing enough academics with everything else going on.

Also, my son was still considering applying to a competitive magnet school (the testing and application process would occur in March). He is so fried now he can't even do test prep review for the test. How much can one kid choose to take on all at once? (These are all things he wants to do! I'm not pushing him!)

I was also concerned because being an SPL requires planning and organization skills. My son has never been great at that let alone having to be held accountable to a big team of adult leadership and being watched by over a hundred Scouts and their parents. I realized this was going to be trial by fire. He doesn't even check email or keep his own calendar or schedule. He's got a lot to learn!

I apologize if I sound anxious or negative, but I truly was worried. I don't want to see my son falter in front of so many people let alone possibly fail.


Here's where I struggle with parental enmeshment. Where is the line between being a good mother and doing too much for him?

Before the election, I thought about stopping my son from running for the position as I didn't want him to feel too much pressure to do too much at once or to save him from a possible failure.

He's 14 years old, a teenager and developing into a young adult. If he felt it was time to take on more personal responsibility, then who am I to stop him? I do want him to be responsible and to learn all these good leadership skills, sometime, I just didn't think now was the right time! But, there is never a perfect sounding time, is there? He wanted to do it so perhaps that MAKES this be the perfect time.

In order to let my son do this I had to stop myself from interfering. I didn't insert myself in the middle of this process. I had accepted the fact that he may lose and that he may be disappointed. I knew he'd get over it. I held back. That holding back was so hard for me to do.

Yet he didn't lose, he won.

And so he has a new chapter in his life to begin.

And I'm happy for him! My husband is proud also, of course!


Fast forward ---

It's been four weeks since he won the election.
I am not doing this job for my son. He has taken leadership training class to learn more about what he is to do. He is working with the Scoutmaster and with the other Scouts on the leadership team.

I am tempted to take over and do the work for my son. I am not letting myself. I keep telling myself he has to do things which sometimes mean mistakes are made. That's okay.

The immediate skills and processes he needed to do right away are to check email daily, respond to emails, compose emails that are read by all the Scouts and parents, create meeting agendas and circulate via email, and stand in front of everyone to lead the Troop meetings.

He has three meetings behind him and so far, he's been doing more than a "good enough" job.

I'm proud of my son!

He really is growing up, apparently...it does happen you know...you can't stop it! Here's the proof they do grow up:

My older son and I the night he crossed over from being a Webelos Cub Scout. He earned his Arrow of Light and became a Boy Scout that day. I'm in my Den Leader uniform, I was my younger son's Wolf Den Leader that year.

March 2008, he was 10.5 years old then.

My older son, January 2012, age 14, a Life Scout and Senior Patrol Leader.

RPG Maker for Teens Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: RPG Maker for Teens
Author: Michael Duggan
Publication: Course Technology, 2011

My Star Rating: 3 stars out of 5 = It’s Okay

Summary Statement: Book Seems Great But Software Non-Functional So…

I’m a mother of a teen and a tween aged sons who have dabbled at drawing manga and making anime on computer software. They are gamers who enjoy xBox360. I had this book and program in mind for them. This is our first foray into this area, we’re all newbies.

The short product description that was on the site at the time I ordered it from Amazon Vine was misleading. I thought it was the software itself. This is a book. The first 86 pages are general information about creating an RPG (which could apply to any software). On page 87 it explains this uses the software RPG Maker and tells you can download a free trial for 30 days. After 30 days if you want to keep using it, it costs $60.

In order to do the book review I downloaded the software on a laptop we bought a few weeks ago, the thing is still sparkling new and has hardly any programs on it to hog up space. We could not get the software to work.

Over 250 more pages of the book are dedicated to walking the reader through designing an RPG using that software. I liked that the storytelling format of the hero’s journey is interspersed between directions on what to click on the various screens. If you are using the program like you’re supposed to then it makes perfect sense to have both a user manual of sorts combined with general video game development. This is a good idea, to combine the basics of design with use of the software. It means the learner is taking abstract ideas and immediately putting them to use: putting them into context. It’s a great way to make the learner realize that what they’re reading is useful and important. The other way to go about this project is a person would to read a general book that is separate from the actual creation of the game using software then teach themselves how to use software (which may or may not have a decent user manual). Some people would do better with the more direct learn as you go and learn as you do method as author Duggan has conceptualized and brought to fruition with this book.

I am torn on how to rate this book. Since this is a book review and the author Michael Duggan cannot be held accountable for problems with the software itself, I don’t feel comfortable giving it a 1 star = I Hate It rating. Yet because the software won’t function how can I figure out if the written directions are good or bad? I certainly love the concept of this book. Thus I rate this 3 stars = It’s Okay.

If you can’t get the free trial of the software to work then you can always return the book for a refund…I wish you good luck with this software program.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon.com for their Vine program. I was under no obligation to mention it on my blog. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Skyscraper Window Washing

Drive by photo by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram 12/10/11 in Houston Texas.

Race to Nowhere: DVD When?

It's time this movie gets to DVD so it can spread to others who have not been able to see it yet. This movie needs to be available for instant streaming on Netflix and Amazon.com. It needs to be on HBO and Showtime and available "on demand" from the cable company.

Producers, enough is enough with the private screenings. You have shared your concerns with only a fraction of people who live in those areas and had time that night to drive sometimes an hour to see the movie. Now the rest of America needs to have a chance to see it.


Update: I saw the movie. My husband needs to see it. I want to see it again.  I'd like my grade nine homeschooled son to see it. Each day more and more kids are dealing with anxiety and more are going on medications. Think of the kids, when you ponder if it's time to keep up the traveling roadshow or if it's time to let it go to DVD.

PaintShop Photo Pro X3 Product Review

Software Name: Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3
My Star Rating: 2 stars out of 5 = I Don’t Like It

Summary Statement: Instant Photo Viewer a Total Disaster and Reason Enough to Uninstall the Program Entirely

I have the limited edition with exclusive bonus pack which provides “over $250 in extra value” of a 2FB USB flash drive, KPT collection plug in, Corel Painter Essentials 4, and Corel WinZip 14.5 Pro. Mine came with a short quick start guide (which was too bare bones to be helpful) and a small page size 137 page paper guidebook. The fact that Corel issues different packs, some with a user manual and some without is something that some customers are upset about. So, know that there are different packs sold and pick the one you want!

I own and older edition of Photoshop Elements (a less expensive pared down version of the professional Photoshop) and am used to PS Elements. I will note that PaintShop Photo Pro X3 is the same pricing as PS Elements and from what I have been able to figure out before trying Corels' product, the two programs are very similar in content as well.

Before I tell why I am dissatisfied I’ll share my opinion that if you already have a photo editing program, you probably should stick with that product and buy updates as you feel are necessary. There is a large and painful learning curve when moving from one software to another. The terms are different, the process is different, and it’s just too painful to put oneself through unnecessarily. I am asking myself why I bothered to want to try PaintShop Photo Pro X3 when I was happy with (my no longer latest version of) Photoshop Elements. I guess I was thinking maybe this was better and why not get this and stop using PSE? I’m sorry I wasted my time. Before I say why I don’t like this program I’ll give more info.

I am looking for very basic photo editing tools. I take photos with a DSLR but am more into the actual taking of well composed and well lit photographs than I am into spending hours of my time editing shots.  What I want photo editing for are some simple things such as: cropping photos, resizing photo files to make them smaller when necessary (i.e. submitting photos to newspapers and websites), to remove red eye, to make a soft edge on a photo and perhaps to adjust an overexposed or underexposed photo.
Regarding projects, which this software does, I’m honestly not sure how I would use this. When making a photo book I would make it right on the site that professionally prints the book. When I make a photo Christmas card I make the soft edge on the photo right on the warehouse store website.  When I make a photo calendar I used the warehouse store’s website to create it from home on the internet, and they print it and I pick it up at the store.

I have a six month old computer PC: Windows 7 Premium and an i3 processor. It is not yet clogged up with too many files and had plenty of room on it for new programs. Installation was easy and took me about 90 minutes only because I would walk away and realize there were many steps and it was waiting for me to keep clicking more boxes.  I was confused though, over having to install multiple programs all from the same CDROM, and was unclear what the differences were between: Paintshop Photo Pro X3, Project Creator, Painter Essentials 4 and KPT collection (that one I did not even bother installing). I did the registration online; there were no phone numbers for me to call. Some reviewers mentioned ads on the screen, I saw no ads. I have over 30,000 photo files on my hard drive at the time this was installed. I don’t understand why other reviewers are saying it took hours to load this software given the number of images on their hard drive.
The instruction manual was promising offering 4 ways for new users to learn to use the system: the Corel guide, the Learning Center palette, the help system and web-based resources. Despite this seemingly wonderful array of options when it came down to figuring out how to do something as simple such as resize a photo to scale it down to 72 dpi I could not find the answer. I still can’t figure out how to see if it saved the file as jpg or if it is saving it with some other format (i.e. raw, gif). I was annoyed that searches with common keywords such as ‘resize’ turned up no results. I could not find any of this information in the user manual either.

When working to edit a photo I was annoyed that multiple images I was not using were lined up at the bottom which it randomly pulled off my hard drive, it was distracting. I am used to working with a program where the only thing on your work surface is what you have chosen to work on right now. I found that I could adjust the viewing box to get larger that pushed those off the screen.

The absolute worst thing about this program which is why I am uninstalling it and giving up is ---- the program over-wrote my existing program to view photo files that were already on my hard drive. When I try to open a photo by clicking on the file on my hard drive, it opens in the Corel Instant Viewer which is a piece of garbage that first pauses for 2 seconds doing nothing while it loads, then it shows an image for 2 seconds in a pixelated blurry mess before sharpening up to view it. Moving to the next photo using the arrow, such as to view photos you took on a certain day, takes 4 seconds to load each photo and my eyes go crazy with the sharp to blurry to sharp to blurry images. I cannot stand this Corel Instant Viewer.  It is impossible to quickly click through the photos. My old software from the Canon camera would instantly load with no pause and it would immediately be in perfect focus. This thing that Corel has is ridiculous.

After spending 4+ hours installing and trying to edit one photograph to just crop it to zoom in, reading the user manual and the online help, just trying to get one photo to convert to 72 dpi and jpg format, and not being able to figure it out, I give up on the program and am going back to Photoshop Elements. The simplest editing task should not be that difficult to figure out.

At at the very least a photo program on a brand new, high speed computer should not take 4 seconds to load one photo image and make us look at it for 2 seconds blurry first – there is no need for such madness.o:p>

Disclosure: I received this product from Amazon.com for the Vine program in order to review it on Amazon.com. I was under no obligation to blog it. See my blog's sidebar for the link to my blog's full disclosure statement.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Meadow Along Feeder Road

Drive by photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram 12/10/11 in Houston Texas.

Getting Photos to Grandparents

I am sure I'm not the only person whose parents are still not on the Internet or networked in any way (i.e. smartphone or email). Since we went digital with our photos nine years ago I have been getting flack from my parents and in-laws that they never see photos of their grandchildren anymore. They want print photos.

Now that we've moved long distance the guilt factor has hit and I've had to figure out what to do about this. Before I kept telling myself they got to see them in person and that would have to suffice (plus they took their own photos when they wanted to).

I hit upon an easy idea. I find a chain store near the grandparents (i.e. their favorite drugstore) that prints photos. I go on the Internet and upload the photos to the store, and place the order. I indicate the photos are for pick-up (not to be mailed out). The account name is in the picking-up-persons name with my email. I place the order and then tell them to go get them. At their convenience they fetch the photos (and pay for them at pick-up).


Everyone's happy.

(And it didn't cost me a penny either.)

Now why didn't I think of this when we lived closer to them?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sunset on the Way to Austin

Drive by photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram October 2011 on the road on the drive to Austin Texas.

Homemade Crouton Recipe (Using Old Bread)

Here is a frugal living slow food recipe I made up for making homemade croutons from old bread. In this case I had three rolls from the grocery store bakery that were three or four days old. They were not moldy yet but were a bit stiffer than I like for fresh eating.

Homemade Croutons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a bread knife and cutting board slice the rolls then cut to make cubes.

Place bread pieces in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the bread and use your hands to try to get the oil onto as many pieces as you can.

Dump the bread pieces onto a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and spread them into a single layer.

Sprinkle fine grained salt over it. Take dried garlic granules (sold in the spice section) in your fingers and carefully sprinkle it around trying to get it on all the pieces.  If desired, so the same with black pepper.

When the oven is hot, put the croutons on the oven and shut the heat off. Leave it alone for a few hours or overnight.

When cooled place in an airtight container or zip top bag. Store in a cool place and use within a week. Since there are no chemical preservatives and these have oil on them they are at risk for going rancid or becoming moldy.

Take note of the garlic flavor and decide if it was too much or not enough then remember this the next time you make your own croutons.

I can’t believe I’ve turned into one of those cooks like grandmothers are, who don’t tell you quantities and expect you to know how much is enough. Well sometimes, that is just the truth. How much oil and seasoning you need will depend on how much old bread you are trying to use up. That’s just the way it is.

Note: in the past our family has made these using the broiler, however with broiling there is a fine line between burned and under-done and you have to watch it like a hawk. This method of letting them sit for hours in a slowly cooling oven resulted in thoroughly crunchy and light puffy croutons that were golden in color and had the seasoning flavor baked into the bread. These are the best our family has ever made. To be honest the only reason I did it this way was I'd just finished roasting a chicken and we had to run out the door to pick our son up and I figured it wouldn't hurt to put them in the just shut off oven and leave them there. I then forgot about them and they sat in the oven overnight. It worked.

Ciao Italia Family Classics Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Ciao Italia Family Classics
By: Mary Ann Esposito
Publication: St. Martin’s Press, October 2011

My Star Rating: 5 stars = I Love It

My Summary Statement: High Quality Hardbound Book with Excellent Photographs and Truly Classic Recipes

I’m not of Italian descent but grew up in Connecticut with a large Italian immigrant population. We had access to Italian import grocery stores and family run restaurants were everywhere. I married an Italian American man who loves to cook so my exposure expanded and I began to cook more and more Italian “slow food” at home. When I moved to Texas last year I realized I’d taken access to these foods for granted now that I have a hard time finding high quality ingredients and imported Italian foods. I can't even find decent restaurants that make authentic type Italian food or even a decent pizza. So we're cooking slow food at home now more than ever before.

My first impression of this cookbook was one of familiarity, because it is has over two dozen recipes that our family already enjoys eating at home or in favorite Italian restaurants. Now that we have the recipes we can make these at home. The other 150 recipes are new to me and I can’t wait to go through the book and try some. Esposito explains that some recipes are from her grandmothers, some are newer recipes served at gourmet restaurants in Italy and some are her own creations using classic Italian ingredients.

I want to stress the word classic that’s in the title. There is a whole chapter on pastas and another on sauces, a chapter on bread and pizza, and I’m thrilled to have a chapter on risotto. In the Introduction she mentions family dinners served in courses and eaten leisurely over multiple hours’ time. The recipes in the book are meant for this purpose, so it starts with antipasti and then goes through the courses: soup, bread/pizza, pasta and sauces, rice, fish, meat, vegetables, salads then desserts. Of course not all of us eat long meals in courses so we often take one food or two, and eat it as the whole meal (pasta, pizza, or a meat or seafood entrĂ©e with a small salad on the side). The recipes stress using high quality ingredients. Many don’t use many ingredients at all, yet these are slow food recipes and some take work (risotto and handmade pasta) or long cooking (sauces, soups). That’s just the nature of slow food, and it is worth it.

The book opens with an explanation of what a well-stocked pantry for Italian cooking should look like. The plea to use high quality ingredients and the comment about using only real cheese is made (and I agree with both as being a firm foundation for good Italian meals). There are some stories in the book and some explanations about some of the food such as telling about her visit to the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese making factory which make this an enjoyable read not just a book of recipes.

The book is hardbound and high quality. The pages are sewn into signatures which are longer lasting than binding with just glue. The pages are thick and glossy (and not see through). There are a lot of full color, full page photographs that tempt me into wanting to make everything. The ingredients are in decent sized font down the margin edge for easy reference with the directions taking up most of the page. The over 200 recipes span 450 pages which makes this a hefty book.

Mary Ann Esposito has over twenty cookbooks on the market but this is the first book of hers that I’ve read. I enjoyed Ciao Italia Family Classics so much that I am curious about her prior publications. Esposito is the host of the PBS cooking show by the same name – Ciao Italia which boasts as being the longest running cooking show on television.

I highly recommend this book for slow food cooks who want to know how to make classic Italian dishes and to learn some new twists using classic Italian food staples.

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon Vine for the purpose of reviewing it on the Amazon.com website. I was not required to blog this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement read the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Street Art

Photo by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram Houston Texas.

A Read Aloud Day

Yesterday it was chilly in the house when we woke up and my eleven year old asked that I do a read aloud. This is the first request for that in at least eight months, probably longer. I declined and cracked the whip about getting the same old - same old homeschool lessons done.

Today shortly after starting homeschool lessons for the day we got a tornado warning. This was our first since moving to Texas. The kids helped me put away loose items on the deck. The tornado warning expired before any inclement weather hit. Then we got a severe thunderstorm warning, and the rains came pouring down and there indeed was a lot of booming thunder and lighting. It was so bad that we shut the computers off meaning online math lessons and other computer related learning ceased.

Again I was asked to read aloud. This time I obliged.

My eleven year old's eyes lit up and he asked for Story of the World "like we used to do all the time!".

My fourteen year old asked for short stories from a new book Steampunk! which I received an advance reading copy of from Amazon.com's Vine program.

I read from Steampunk! because our copy of SOTW is in a box somewhere in my garage, surrounded by other good homeschooling books and curriculum, waiting to move to a place with more bookcases.

I read aloud for a couple of hours, going much longer than I usually last. (The two stories I read aloud were dark and there was child abuse and murder and revenge. We have certainly come a long way from reading Goodnight Moon. I guess if you want to continue read alouds with boys who are teens and tweens the subject matter shifts over time!)

It was like old times with the three of us on the couch snuggled under a large blanket with cats on our laps. The only problem was the kids are so big now that I had knees and elbows poking into me since they were in various odd sitting positions, and I was squished in the middle since they both wanted me next to them.

While the rain downpoured and the thunder rolled, we sat next to the window with the blinds up and looked out at the gray scary day out there. We were comfortable and relaxed.

It was one of the best types of homeschooling moments. I needed one such moment!

P.S. Actually I left something out of the story. During the second read aloud my ninth grader asked to make homemade pudding from scratch while I kept reading. He has never done that before but I made it last week and he loved it. I told him where to find the recipe. So I read aloud while he made the pudding. By the time we were near the end of the second story the pudding had cooled and we enjoyed some while I kept reading. It was so delicious I couldn't wait for the end of the story so I read aloud in between spoonfuls of custard. I like the way that my home baking and home cooking has rubbed off onto my kids....I'll read aloud anytime in exchange for kids making delicious desserts from scratch for me!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ice Cream Sundaes

Photo by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram at Pappas Burgers in Houston Texas. These were on display, we didn't eat them!

Trying My Best at Parenting and Homeschooling

I have a few blog posts in draft that were not easy to write then never were published. So here is what I was trying to say. I'm just going to try to get it out, and however imperfect this post is, here it is.

I'm trying my best to raise my kids well. That's all I can claim that I know about parenting and homeschooling my kids.

I am not preaching on this blog. I am sharing information and stories. I hope the information helps you. I am not sure what value the stories are but hope they are not a waste of your time to read.

Some days I ask myself, "Who cares what I blog? Who actually is reading this?" Someone told me the only people who write about themselves must think they are a luminary. Do people think I think I'm some luminary? I don't think I'm a luminary. I'm just a mom who raised her kids with attachment parenting and I'm homeschooling them too.

I don't know why writing is viewed any differently than talking. To me writing is talking but in text not in auditory sounds. Writing is easy for me, easier than talking. Perhaps those who say negative things about people who write struggle to write and find talking easier. Would anyone criticize anyone for talking? "Who do they think they are to tell someone a story that happened to them? Do they think they are a luminary?" Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Why do people want writers to justify the fact that they write? I don't get it.

But back to parenting...

Years ago when I used to watch Oprah she said something to a Mom, "You do what you felt was best at the time and that's all you can do". There was some problem that happened, I don't recall what it was, but in 20/20 hindsight it was apparent that something should have happened differently to avoid the big bad thing. But the mother claimed she didn't feel there was any other option so whatever it was that the viewers wished never happened did happen. Oprah was trying to dig into the past to see what might have happened to make that thing happen or to see what didn't happen to stop that thing from happening.

Back when I used to volunteer with La Leche League to help mothers learn to breastfeed their babies and to mother them, while expressing happiness over breastfeeding a baby a mother would sometimes say she felt bad for not having breastfed an older child (or multiple older children). The word regret was incorrectly used by mothers. Regret is when there were two do-able options and you knowingly chose the worse one then later felt bad about having made that choice. Remorse is the right word that most should use, it means you now wish you'd done something differently if you had only known there was another way and that the option was something you could have done. It does no good to feel bad about not having done something that was not a choice for you anyway, even if the reason was just ignorance.

For example one mother I spoke with had a life threatening medical emergency after her first baby was delivered. She was bleeding out and nearly died. She had to have additional surgery and was not conscious for a couple of days, and was loaded up on strong drugs. The baby was put on formula and the bottle by the hospital staff. The mother lived and was healthy (Thank God!) but she was beating herself up over not breastfeeding. She was trying to get the baby back to the breast, it's not usually an easy process but it's something that some mothers want to try to do. I don't feel it does anyone any good to beat themselves up over past actions unless you really did have a choice and chose the worst thing of your own free will.

I mention regret and remorse and guilt because those are things that parents (probably more often, mothers) think about when they think about their parenting journey. Mothers can be very hard on themselves. The current psychology is so outcome based lately, the experts advise to do this and that and don't do that and that, and then your child will have that outcome. This is the case for both parenting a child and the education of a child. However since 99% of American kids attend school the responsibility of the education is taken away from the parent and put onto the school system.


Sometimes I feel like I should stop blogging. I sincerely hope that people don't think that I think I know it all about parenting or homeschooling. What really do I have to share that is of any worth?

I am just living and writing and publishing some of my writing here on the blog. If you think it's funny or entertaining to read what I say here, then good. Read on and laugh.

I don't think I'm funny much at all anymore. I was a funny kid. I laughed almost nonstop with my friends when I was growing up. I started losing my sense of humor when bad things started happening in my life. When I became a mother and things started going wrong I became even more serious. These were high stakes! I was responsible for a human life!

Later other challenges that adults face, like unemployment and moving long distance further put a damper on general enjoyment of life. In the trying times, I have a hard time even finding something funny to laugh at on most days. In the most stressful times I sometimes realized I was going days without even smiling. The stress of life sometimes squashes the ability to enjoy the good things happening on that same day.

I don't know it all and never pretended to. I know what I don't know and that's one of the things that make me a more serious person who has concerns and worries. I can see the possible negative consequences and I don't want to see them happen to my children. I want my kids to have options that I didn't have. Besides being raised in a loving home with open communication and without the fear of corporal punishment I want my kids to enjoy learning and to know how to think and communicate well, I want them decently educated and to not get turned off by learning thanks to the worst part of what happens to some students who attend school. So, not using school was a major decision we made early in our parenting journey.

Mothering has been the most rewarding thing I've ever done but it's also the most work of anything and it's been the most stressful also. How can it be all three of those things? It just is, for me at least.

Good mothers are not perfect people, there's a myth I'd like to bust. I think I'm a good mother. Yet, I am an imperfect human. I make mistakes. I am not a Stepford Wife, I'm not a June Cleaver. I have real emotions. I get annoyed. Especially as my children grew older I stopped always talking to them in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice. Although I don't use profanity regularly anymore I have slipped and let out a few curse words with my kids sometimes. Mothering has taught me patience but I am not a saint.

I have less patience for other people's kids. Even in my well-intentioned volunteer work I have been tested and tried while dealing with other people's kids and some of them have seen my imperfections and flaws. If there is one thing that kids know, it is that no adult is perfect. They know their own parents are not perfect, and neither is any adult they come in contact with. So when other people's kids see my imperfections they are not disappointed or surprised, they are used to imperfection.

I know when I've reached my limits and may be causing more harm than I am doing well. After the fourth year volunteering at Cub Scout day camp I realized I was burned out when I had no patience left for their nonsense and when I couldn't deal with the kids who were creating an unsafe environment for the good-behaving kids one day I lost it. Nearly all the volunteers yelled but I never did, until that day and I let them have it. I still wasn't as loud or demeaning as some others I'd been hearing rant and rave all week but for me it was an all-time low.

For the kids to have a better program I knew it would be my last year doing that particular volunteer job. I knew I would leave a void to be filled with some other parent. The problem was those parents were not volunteering as they were telling me that they felt you needed some special talent to handle the job, but it wasn't true. All the kids needed was a person who was fresh and un-jaded who had just a mild amount of enthusiasm.

My talents and energy could be used elsewhere in the Scouting program to do good for the boys in some other way, if the organization needed me and wanted my help. (They found something else for me to do immediately. It really is true when you close a door God opens a window of opportunity for something else.)

About homeschooling: my self-confidence is getting less and less the older my kids get and the closer they get to college. I am getting to a point where I realize my limitations and I want a certain good (better) outcome for my sons (than I think I can personally deliver). I'm trying to decide if certain changes will truly result in something better happening.

I have been thinking about enrolling my older son in public high school. I've been wondering if it would be better than homeschooling at this point. If putting him there will give me less stress than homeschooling does (good for me) but the program is not good enough then it's not worth the trade-off (could have some bad for him outcomes). Sometimes things that seem like a great thing bring unintended negative consequences. Then there is the question of asking if the devil I know is better than the devil I don't know. Anyhow with the medical treatments he's getting three times a week right now there is no way he could attend school this semester as he'd be out on medical leave with home tutors anyway! So apparently there really is not any decision to make. Homeschooling will continue, for this year at least.

I'm willing to put forth a certain amount of work and effort (which is not always joy-filled) if it means a better outcome for my kids. The outcomes I refer to are not necessarily huge things, they can be small things like thanks to homeschooling I was able to change my son's math curriculum so now he loves algebra and understand it easily. Another is that homeschooling allows us freedom with our schedule so that my son can get the medical treatment he needs. Another is letting a sick kid sleep until they are well rested instead of forcing them to get up to go to school while still sick so they don't miss another day.

The good things with homeschooling and parenting add up over time and make any of the hard parts of my parenting journey worth it. These things do not necessarily happen every day. The easy and the challenging moments don't always occur in paced out equal shares so that it is easy at the end of the day to say "two crappy things happened but two good things happened today so it's a wash" or "three bad things happened but four good things happened so I get to feel happy about the day, it was a success".

Two months ago I was wringing my hands with worry over quitting the online math class and feeling terribly that the supposedly fantastic program was not a good fit for my son when today I'm elated that the new one he started is resulting in real learning and enjoyment in the process. Now it seems silly that I had anxiety over making the change! Sometimes it is not until months later that we can give ourselves permission to let go of the worry or negative thing so we can let ourselves feel happy about the current good situation.

Sometimes I worry that my blog readers think I think I'm perfect. To further bust that myth here's some dirty laundry on me.

Ways that I'm an imperfect homeschool mom are:

I'm not confident about doing high school science with labs. I am trying to find options to help my son through this that do not rely just on me teaching him in the home.

I am not at all capable of teaching my kids a foreign language. We're getting down to the wire with procrastination getting us to the last minute. Last year's Rosetta Stone use was okay but this year the kids hate it and say they are learning little. In the fall of his grade ten year my son had better be taking a foreign language class: either at a community college or online. We have to make a decision and make some plans and just do it.

My kids read a lot more than studies say schooled kids read, and they read more than the high school syllabi list, but we may not be discussing it enough, and my ninth grader has not ever written an essay about a work of literature that he has read.

I could go on and on but won't.


Outcomes Depend on Strangers Too

Other times things are outside of my control and strangers contribute to my children not having optimal outcomes.

Right now I'm having a struggle over lacrosse for my younger son. When this situation is over maybe I'll blog it. I can tell it is developing into the type of juicy talk that moms share over coffee. I'd better not spill the story at this point since it is still in process. Maybe, just maybe, the outcome will be good.
My children's life experiences are not all in my control. I never thought they were, I just am trying to do my due diligence to help my kids do the things they want and do things that are good for them and to do what the parent is supposed to do. My own effort toward that goal does not always result in the good thing happening, but at least I'm trying to do what I think is best at the time.

Kid's Outcomes Depends on Them, Too

As kids grow up they should become more and more independent. It is right and best for parents to step back and let teens make more decisions for themselves.

Sometimes the teen makes a mistake that contributes to something not happening as planned or hoped. The teen needs to accept ownership for that. The parent has to let them make their mistakes sometimes.

Last year my older son wanted to rank up in Boy Scouting at a certain Court of Honor but he procrastinated about finishing two merit badges and he left them to the last minute. The merit badge counselor didn't show up at their planned meeting so finishing one badge on time was not possible. He pulled off the second but he needed both to rank up.

My son's error in judgment and choice to procrastinate meant his ranking up was put off for another six months. I was let down that the counselor failed to show up but I was not angry. Unlike some other parents who threw fits about the situation, I did not pitch a fit. Rather than focus on the adult's misstep that caused a less than optimal situation for the Scouts, I focused on my own son's personal responsibility error. I told my son the bottom line was the responsibility was his and that if he'd not waited until the last minute this would not have happened.

My son was disappointed but he survived. There was no huge negative consequence. It gave him another opportunity to learn to cope with negative emotions about something relatively small. That is good practice for when he needs to cope with a larger problem someday.

Some people have told me they don't like homeschooling parents because they are overly controlling and try to manipulate all the situations the child is in, in order to try to create a state of perfection for their child all the time. Parents cannot and should not control everything in the teen's life just to try to create an optimal outcome for the teen. Sometimes the teen can grow and develop only by taking responsibility for the process. They learn by doing the process. They do not learn anything by having perfect situations created by someone else delivered to them all ready for them to step into.

If a teen using their own judgment makes an error, they have to live with the outcome of their actions. Hopefully the stakes are not too high. They learn from their mistakes, but not always after making the mistake once. Sometimes they make the same mistakes over and over before they decide to change and do things a different way to try for a different outcome. I find myself biting my tongue and holding back from intervening to help my son not do that thing again. I am letting him stumble and sometimes fall. It's part of growing up.

Adversity is a normal part of life. Adversity builds character. You can't avoid all the adversity in life.


What I want to say to parents is you have a responsibility to try to do well by your kids. In this land of opportunity when we're not living in a third world country where life is not a literal day to day struggle for basic survival we feel pressure to create some kind of utopian childhood and to help our kids be the best they can be and arrive at the adulthood healthy and happy and ready for anything. I think that's a tall order.

Parenting is not typically all fun all day long. Parenting is not struggle free. There are good things to celebrate if you take time to notice that they happened and do not just look at what is going wrong or what is sub-optimal. It is normal for life to throw you problems and challenges in the midst of already being busy parenting your kids. We have no choice but to deal with whatever life has dealt us. It's too bad that sometimes dealing with regular life can keep us so busy that we can't notice something good happening right under our nose, or if we're under stress we can't even feel the happiness that we realize we should be able to feel when something good happens.

I don't know what it is about our society that makes parents feel we are never quite doing the parenting job well enough. If I could identify what the cause is then I'd call for parents everywhere to team up and work together to put a stop to it.

Active parenting is tiring. I can't do it all and neither can you. Sometimes I just don't have enough energy or time to do it all the way I think is right and best. I try. We shoot for the stars and if we hit the moon we'll be more than okay.

Someday soon my children will have flown the coop and I get to decide what I want to do with my life next. I'll have plenty of time on my hands, and probably less stress. Life will be easier. For now I truly am happy to have this responsibility and privilege, even though some days are tiring and life's not easy most days.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Twain's Feast Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens

Author: Andrew Beahrs

Publication: Penguin Press, June 2010

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

My Summary Statement: Excellent Storytelling by an Informed Food Writer – A Great Escape Read for Foodies

When I received this book I assumed it was what I call a project memoir, where a person wants to know something and travels around and does research and shares what they learned in writing and bundles their essays up and publishes a book. A pure project memoir is usually done by a novice who knows nothing of the topic and learns everything along the way, and is written from the perspective of a newbie. These are sometimes published by laypeople hobbyists or amateurs who are not writers, and as a result the books are sometimes uneven or just mediocre pieces of writing, with storytelling skills being a crapshoot. This is NOT a project memoir. And that is a good thing.

This book is more of a travelogue than a project memoir. It was written by a person who going into the project, already has a decent knowledge base about food and gourmet food topics. Beahrs is an experienced and skilled food writer, and is an excellent storyteller. Thus, this book is well written and interesting.

Beahrs set out on a journey to sample foods today that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) mentioned in his book A Tramp Abroad, about a hundred years ago. A challenge is the world has changed, the landscape has changed, and not all the foods are really available (wild prairie chicken being one). Some foods are no longer daily staples for poor people but are served once a year at a festival (raccoon).

Beahrs’ writing pulled me in. He writes with a good flow from topic to topic and weaves between present day observations to history and facts and then to his personal opinions and experiences. This weaving in and out is seamless. He is able to write in a way that never was boring yet educated and discussed facts and things I never thought I’d care to know. Reading this book was an enjoyable escape reading experience.

I should also mention I am a home slow food cook and from scratch baker and enjoy fine dining in restaurants whenever I can, so learning about food and I like reading about food.

If you enjoy good storytelling escape reads, and are a foodie or are a big fan of Mark Twain, or enjoy travelogues or books about the history of food in America, you will enjoy this book.

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It for the excellent storytelling, engaging escape read and interesting foodie subject matter.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from Amazon.com’s Vine program. I was not obligated to blog about the book. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tiger and Fire Hydrant

Photo by Christine at a Spring Texas nursery 12/11/11 near Houston with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Megg's History of Graphic Design Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Meggs' History of Graphic Design 5th Edition

Authors: Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis

Publication: Wiley, November 2011

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Massive Tome of Chronologically Arranged History with 1400+ Color Illustrations - Teaching & Study Aids on Publisher's Site

Megg's History of Graphic Design 5th Edition is a massive textbook which has been expanded and improved. The page size is large: 8.5 x 11 inches, it's 600 pages long (and weighs five pounds!). The paper is high quality glossy, thick (and not see-though). Each of the 1400+ illustrations is in full color. The book is also available in eBook format.

Meggs spent over 25 years research and working on this book and after his death, Purvis has expanded the book for the 4th and 5th edition. As it always has been, this is a chronological history which starts with prehistory of early man's cave paintings then to the invention of writing and goes to the present day. This is a wide sweep, a comprehensive survey of graphic design. This 5th edition adds content for some previously unrepresented countries. It adds new information about the latest technologies such as magazines for iPad with moving graphics that breaks new ground for graphic design and makes it more complicated and enhanced.

On the publisher's website are free companion materials for teachers: study guides and sample tests and answer keys as well as study materials for students. There is also an app that can be purchased for iPhone or iPad to help students study with visual flashcards.

This book is a visual feast, filled with eye candy for graphic artists and artists to both educate and inspire. I found the writing easy to read and interesting, since I have a personal interest in this subject, it held my attention. This book is used by graphich design college course students. I'm an adult who has been teaching herself about art due to a personal curiosity and interest in the subject. It is not a dry and boring textbook. This is a unique and impressive text that people consider the Bible of graphic design history.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon.com Vine program. I was under no obligation to discuss it on my blog. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tree at HEB

Photo by ChristineMM at HEB grocery store parking lot The Woodlands Houston Texas on 12/12/11 with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Instagram Tips

Here are some things I have learned in playing with Instagram.

If you are in a situation where you must shoot fast and not make decisions about filters, or if you are shooting in bright sunlight and can't see your screen well, shoot with the regular iPhone camera. Later when you have time, feel like it, and can see well, pull the photo from your iPhone photo album, crop it and filter it and share it. Just be careful to allow room for cropping the rectangle image into a square.

If you are trying to shoot in the Instagram app but want to zoom, you cannot, so exit Instagram, open your iPhone camera and use that to take the photo. I use this often for shooting city landscapes when I want pieces of buildings but when close objects would ruin the shot. When I'm passenger in the car I can zoom and shoot some interesting landscapes.

Take photos while stopped at a red light. We have some lights here that are 90 seconds long! That is a long time! I grab the camera and take shots of lovely clouds and sunsets as well as cityscapes.

If you are the driver ask your passenger to shoot certain objects you see while driving, that would be unsafe for you to attempt.

If you want to do multiple filters on the same image save the first crop as normal. Then start a second Instagram using the "normal" photo and use the filter. Then repeat. In this way you can get a series of identical shots that use different filters.

Use down time for Instagram. I have filtered shots while standing in line to pay the cashier at stores, while in waiting rooms, and while sitting in my car waiting for my kid to finish what he's doing so I can drive him home.

Using Instagram is so fast and easy. You don't have to do the whole process right on the spot. Instagram should be fun and should not have any pressure attached to it.

Speaking for myself I rarely waste time playing with Instagram, I'm just using up spare moments here and there. It's fun and it actually diffuses the stress for me because it prevents me from getting aggravated at a slow cashier or a forever red light.

iMainGo XP Ultra-Portable Stereo Speaker and Protective Case for iPad 1 and iPad 2 Product Review

Product: iMainGo XP Ultra-Portable Stereo Speaker and Protective Case for iPad 1 and iPad 2

My Star Rating: 5 starts out of 5 = I Love It

My Summary Statement: Easy and Convenient Portable Audio System for iPad (and Can Use in Limited Ways with Kindle Fire) but Not for Everyday Carrying Case Use for Me

This is a hard plastic case that fits on the iPad1 and iPad2 with portable speakers. The two doors open outward to reveal a right and left stereo speaker with the device oriented horizontally. There is a separate plastic folding system to use to prop it up on a table or desk.  The iPads fit into it perfectly. The sliding mechanism to open the doors is hard to operate. My eleven year old really struggled to open it.

This weighs two pounds. I am not complaining of the weight as a problem of design, common sense says that a speaker system has components that will weigh a certain amount. I mention this as heaviness may not be convenient for everyday use. Also I don’t like the outward door speakers for everyday use of the iPad2. If you used this as a daily protective case and wanted to use the iPad in a vertical position the speakers would orient up and down, and are in my way. If you want your iPad to be lightweight and slim for everyday carrying around, I’d recommend a neoprene sleeve protective case. So, you may choose to buy both of those two things for two different uses.

The speakers are fine at mid-range. At the upper half of the range they vibrated and the sound distorted. However that was too loud for my liking when sitting close enough to have a good view of the screen. In other words this does not convert your iPad into a home theatre with top quality volume at blasting volume levels. But who wants that anyway since when sitting at a distance you can’t see the screen! I played music at the mid-range volume and could hear it crisp and clear from thirty feet away in my home. Using it in that manner allows me to use this device in place of a home docking station speaker system. (It would be nice if we didn’t HAVE to buy every single type of accessory for these devices, especially if we own multiple devices! I’m trying to combine these to have more than one use.)
I am pleased with the quality of sound for the volumes that our family uses. It is convenient to have the speakers as a case system instead of freestanding speakers that are inconvenient to carry around. Because we don’t need to use this everywhere and every day we are using a neoprene sleeve case for everyday and using this when we know we want to a louder and higher quality sound system.

(The Kindle Fire has the same jack so you can actually use this on the Kindle Fire, when the unit is on a table or desk. Since it was not designed for the smaller Kindle Fire it doesn’t fit snugly and it wouldn’t work as a carrying case for it. However if you own both devices (as my family does) you can “make do” with this for stable tabletop surface use.)
I rate this 5 stars = I Love It because I feel the quality is high and it is great for watching movies and video clips with sound and also is a good enough for me speakers system to play music into a room with.

Disclosure: I received this product for review from the Amazon.com Vine program. I was not under obligation to blog this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Clock at Stata Center MIT

Photo by ChristineMM at MIT Boston Massachusetts 11/19/11 with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Not How Our Family Would Pick a College

One lecture I attended at the MIT ESP Splash parent lectures in 2011 was a total and complete waste of my time. The rest were fantastic and I am so grateful for them.

This one was a bomb. It was about college admissions. It wound up being a sales pitch for families to buy a software and online program that seemed completely unnecessary for me. The main thing was a timeline calendar telling you what to do when, for the college applications process. Anyone who has researched the process even a little bit already knows this information.

Anyhow the purpose of my post is to share this is when I realized this guy was not speaking to my family. No way, no how.

This is what he said about:

How Students and Parents Pick a College


Boyfriend or girlfriend goes there/ going to go there

All my friends go there


“Good food” there

It’s a party school!

Have certain sports teams

Dorm size (is good)


Money, can afford it

It’s their Alma Mater

Quality of the education there

Drive is within 2 hours

My thoughts---

UMMMM--------something was left off the list that is the top priority for my kids and my husband and I. That would be “has the major in the field I want to study”.


Also “is a good school for that major, respected and well known as a good program for that major”.

And of course “the school is a good fit for my child for multiple reasons”.
Depending on your career choice, it may be important to attend a brand name school for that career field. It’s not always necessary but in some industries such as my husband’s, it is important. He learned that the hard way. I also experienced favoritism for job candidates who attended a select few colleges where I worked.

The audience contributed these as reasons to pick that school:

Brand name school

Well known school

Have area you want to study

(He stopped calling on the audience at that point.)


Well anyhow when I realized that this guy thought that the people in the room actually supported that list he provided for what students and parents wanted I realized he was not a right fit for the people in the room, or so I’d like to think.

I chose to not leave the room although I wanted to bolt, because I wasn’t sure if the lecture was going to improve or stop being a sales pitch. In the end, I didn’t learn anything there except perhaps my family is in the minority if what we are looking for is not stuff like “good dorm rooms” and “good food” and “party school” and “where my girlfriend goes”.

Frankly I think a little suffering in college is a good thing so a crappy dorm room and bad food is fine by me. That way when the kids start working and supporting themselves and have it better than college was they’ll feel grateful -- instead of living in a country club college that may be even better than home was, and then realizing when they are working in the real world they are now slumming it even worse than when they lived with Mommy and Daddy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Twilight Sky with Clouds

Photo by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram in The Woodlands Houston Texas 12/18/11.

Chanterelle Dreams Amanita Nightmares Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Chanterelle Dreams Amanita Nightmares Book Review by ChristineMM

Author: Greg Marley

Publication: Chelsea Green, September 2010

My Star Rating:
5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Author Has Voice of Experience – A Lot About the Issue of Poisoning and Which to Eat Safely

Marley has decades of experience hunting wild mushrooms and researching them, he’s a mycologist. This book focuses on edible mushrooms for culinary use. (He has another book about the medicinal uses of mushrooms.) I enjoyed the fact that his voice had an air of confidence and experience. A major focus of the book is discussing the fear of wild mushroom poisoning and a focus on four of the most popular and common edible, safe mushrooms for people to eat.

The book starts off discussing the unique and irrational fearful attitude that Americans have compared to people living in Europe and Asia. There, wild mushrooming has been a food staple for thousands of years. In those countries, wild mushroom hunting is an annual fun family outdoor activity. (Confession: I am one of the ignorant Americans who, until reading this book, was afraid to eat wild mushrooms.)

After boosting our confidence, Marley focuses on five mushrooms and educates us thoroughly about each. Before reading the book I thought, “Why will he only tell us about four?” because it didn’t seem comprehensive enough to me. However after reading it I realized there was a lot to learn about mushrooms and the idea of knowing these “foolproof four” mushrooms deeply, to start off with, seemed reasonable, sensible, and smart. The mushrooms are: morels, puffballs, sulphur mushroom polypore, and shaggy mane.

Included with the information is the best way to prepare each mushroom in order to be able to appreciate its flavor and texture most fully. A small number of recipes per mushroom are included. If there are two best ways to eat a mushroom I’ll not complain that there are only two recipes, instead I’m grateful to know what they are so I don’t waste precious wild mushrooms on a recipe that masks the mushroom’s actual flavor or ruins its texture.

The issue of toxicity is thoroughly discussed. I was going to say it’s overkill (since I read the book cover to cover and the information sometimes gets repeated in various places in the book) but it is important. I felt perhaps it was repeated in case readers are not reading cover to cover and are reading select chapters or sections only.

The complex issue of the fact that some people can eat the same mushroom and have some ill effects (but not fatal) while other people eat them with no problem is explained. Some mushrooms are only poisonous when combined with drinking alcohol with the meal and other times you can eat a small amount and be fine but too much and you get sick. The method of preparation is also important; cooking some the right way will eliminate the problem. Marley explains all this information clearly.

This is a nonfiction book (not a project memoir) from a person who knows what they are talking about and has a passion for the subject. Marley has personally hunted wild mushrooms for many seasons in his area and in other locales. He has cooked with the mushrooms for a long time. In addition to facts and a professional air to the book, Marley speaks from personal experience such as saying a mushroom is usually up when certain wild trees are flowering in the spring. I was grateful for the personal tidbits as to me they are important nuggets of wisdom; if they can help a person then include them. Without these the book would have read more like a boring book of facts. Some readers have complained they live in a different region of North America than Marley and accused that his information is Maine-centric. I disagree.

I found this book entertaining and educational and loved that it had a voice of a professional yet the personal tidbits made it seem personal and made for more lively reading. There is a lot of information here from an experienced mycologist author who I think we can trust.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon.com Vine program. I was under no obligation to discuss it on my blog. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tropical Plant in My Yard

Photo by ChristineMM taken November 2011 in The Woodlands Houston Texas with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Internet Safety and Kids: Parents Do Your Duty & Beware of MapleStory

It's pretty much old news, that some internet sites are created for kids to use and that they claim to have children's safety in mind.

If the site has any kind of free text box to chat, you had better watch out. Even a site designed for tweens and younger aged kids needs monitoring.

My younger son (age 11) has been playing a free role playing game on the Internet. This creeped in shortly after he saved his money to buy his own laptop. We had a ban on video games via xBox360 in the house except for two hours Saturday and two hours Sunday.

The creeping in thing happened for multiple reasons that happened at once. First, we had just moved to Texas in the 100-105-108 degree heat and drought of August 2011. It was too darned hot to go outside. We don't have a swimming pool at our house. I was busy unpacking and organizing the house and getting ready for homeschooling so I could not take the kids out to community swimming pools and to other places. My kids had not made friends yet, there was no one to play with. This is a small house with an open floor plan so what one person has on the TV is heard through the whole house. I didn't want more video games played. While older son did homeschooling in the quiet house younger son (who finished homeschooling faster) was playing a silent video game on the laptop: MapleStory.

I have looked at MapleStory and had not found a problem until today. There is a free text area where my son was chatting about game play, tips and tricks.

MapleStory is moderated and someone is supposed to make sure the chat is in alignment with the rules. Swearing is not allowed nor are sex jokes. Today something told me to look.

Today when I looked my stomach turned. I moved my son aside and scrolled back to read the chat. In order for you to think that I am not crazy I am going to blog the explicit details of the discussion. .

In the discussion multiple players were asking the other players to be Facebook friends for offline chat. (This is a common way that pedophiles contact children.)

If you do not wish to read what is being put on a site for children and tweens, stop reading now.

Being discussed was anal sex between males. One person said he likes it to be tight. One said he likes it from behind. The other said he likes to get it from the front. There was a reference to being in the shower and bending over to get the soap. Then there was a mention of transvestites and asking if the person was one.

That kind of talk goes beyond the rule violation of making a sex joke.

I read the site's rules and could not find more detailed rules about what happens if members try to lure other members off the site for discussion. Nothing was said about the punishment for outright sex chat but there were punishments for sex jokes (3 day ban for first violation, 9 day ban for 3rd violation and nothing said about 4th time or more).

My son told me that you can report problems. I filed a report against one player who was doing the sex chat. It is set up so you have to file a report against each person one by one. I tried to do a report on person two but it said that they limit submission reports to from one player once a week. So how are you supposed to report inappropriate behavior online?

I contacted the company and have a ticket number. We'll see what they say.

Meantime my son is banned from MapleStory, not because he did the sex chat but because I feel it's an unsafe place for kids.

The joke is that in trying to have my kids play less video games I limited the xBox360, but the truth is that is more controllable than free games on the Internet. My son was addicted to MapleStory and played for hours every day, it was something I was struggling with managing. I may as well just let the kid use xBox360 more often, at least he can't be contacted by potential sexual predators and child molesters or just sick people having detailed sex chat in an open game forum.

Companies who create video games and other websites specifically for children to use have an ethical duty to provide a safe environment. Based on what I saw yesterday I don't feel that Nexon - MapleStory is doing their job well enough.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grogan's at Night

Photo by ChristineMM drive by photography with iPhone4 and Instagram in The Woodlands Houston Texas.

Unintended Negative Consequences of SOPA

Khan Academy has produced a video explanation of SOPA that focuses on the problems of the bill.

In my opinion the bill's language is too strict and too far-reaching. This gives too much power to judges and then there is really no recourse for justice to be served if the website owner feels an injustice has been done.

I am all for obeying the law for copyright infringement. I am against stealing and piracy. However SOPA has gone too far.

Free Homeschool High School Webinar: The Home Scholar

Topic: Taking the Mystery out of SAT - ACT Essay

The Home Scholar will discuss the exams. Then Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing will discuss the essay portions.

Monday 1/23/12 8:30pm EST

See this link for details. You must RSVP


Disclosure: I have nothing to disclose.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Water Fountain Art

Hobby Airport Houston Texas photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram 11/18/11.

Some of My Education Reform Ideas (Part Two)

This continues my ideas for education reform.

Ages of Students

The ideas I shared yesterday were geared toward middle school and high school.

I also support the mixing of ages and less grouping by grade levels. A reason to stop using grade levels as such a hard and fast determinator of what classes are taken is:

1. development varies among girls and boys, research shows girls are a bit ahead

2. The trend of holding boys back a grade is getting more and more common, called "red shirting", this is unfair as one boy in a class may enter Kindergarten in Connecticut at age 4 years 9 months (with a December birthday) while his peer who was red shirted may be aged 5 years 8 months (January birthday). I know of few girls who were red shirted but there are some I know of. It would be even worse to have a boy aged 4 years 8 months sitting next to a girl aged 5 years 8 months! Birthday cut-off dates vary by state but they seem to be flexible, if the parent wants the child kept out, they are, and that even puts some kids at an advantage developmentally.

3. Development is asynchronous even in labeled gifted kids. A child can be so called ahead in math and on grade level with reading and behind in writing composition. If we look at this from the perspective of the student's level of being challenged, it's uneven. Why shouldn't a student be able to move faster in some areas rather than continue to be bored in some subjects, half-way bored in others and still struggle in the rest. Even the area of natural talent for the student is not nurtured, it winds up being a boring class for them.

4. If the goal is to teach a skill such as arithmetic and writing composition the goal should be to focus on the skill being taught as the determinator of who's in that class, not based on the age of the child.

5. Some subjects are foundational and build upon mastered skills. My idea to chop a subject into three or four segments would help students who stumbled in segment 1. They could retake segment 1 the next term and when they got it, move on to segment 2 the next quarter term.

6. We all know we learn better from some teachers than others. Even a teacher who is "great" may not be a good fit for the next student. I hear this from parents all the time, they are surprised that their two children reacted differently to the same teacher. They loved the teacher with the first child but realized the second child was just not clicking with that same "great" teacher. Therefore if classes are taken in 4 segments instead of as 1 course for a whole grade the student could change teachers and find a better fit, perhaps.

If the idea of mixing ages, think about college. Except for colleges with a special courseload for freshman, students mix based on their skill level and prerequisites. A sophomore may be in the same class as a senior. If English 100 was not done well, a student retakes it. This really is not that foreign of an idea after all.

I would also argue that too many kids in the same exact developmental social stage together is less healthy than mixing up the ages. Younger kids can stand to have more role models in their life, starting with being in the same class as a kid one or two years older than them but with whom they can converse the same with on the topic being studied in the class.

The only barrier I see to all these ideas, is it would be a new system to plan and manage on the administrative end. It would mean a big change. Too bad for the administrators that would have to learn a new way.

The Financial Cost

When a superintendent is making a quarter of a million dollars a year why not make them really work for it? I have no problem saying "the creative thinkers who can take on a challenge to do something new are the ones who deserve to make more than our country's President".

Principals making six figures, how about thinking outside the box and initiating some real change?

How much do you have to pay a leader to be innovative and to do the right and best things to affect change? Is there some special number that switches a person from being more of a supervisor light-manager of people and changes them into a more courageous and able to institute change type of organization leader? Maybe the problem is people with the right skills are not being hired for those roles?

Some citizens complain that for profit corporations of multi-million or multi-billion dollar companies make big money, even when the truth is that nearly all of it is made from selling shares of stock (not paid out as cash from the company's pocketbook and therefore doesn't impact the company's budget). Well how much money should a government worker who is not a for-profit business make? How much should a principal and superintendent? Is $100K too much, $150K, $200K, or $250K enough? How much is enough to get some real change in the way things are done?

Public schools cost more than parochial schools but often the student outcome, measured by test scores on paper and by what colleges the students are admitted to is the same or better for the parochial schools.

There is research showing that money spent does not correlate with learning achieved. Thus I am not going to spend much time saying we can't afford changes. If you don't believe me, entire books have been read about the analysis of data. I recall watching a BookTV author lecture on this a few years ago, those lectures are like the Cliff Notes version of a book.

In my former town the cost of public high school was $21,500 per student. That is more than multiple local private schools. How much is enough to spend? How much is enough that someone is allowed to say "with this much money we can afford try try something different"?

How is it logical to increase the education budget 8-9-10% a year when residents paying taxes working for the private sector are not making a raise to equal that additional payout? When will the spending slow down? This increase of spending year after year comes with doing the same old-same old thing. Why would it be wrong to say "this year with the 9% increase we are making some changes"?

The cost of public education is complicated but you won't find me saying "we can't afford to change things". I would say that perhaps changing things may make it less expensive.

At this point I have some things to say about people, psychology and change. I think I'll stop here and continue tomorrow.

I realize this may seem rambling to you but this is a huge topic so it's hard to not have a long discussion when one is trying to touch upon the many issues.